This problem has to be dealt with but there is a risk that we go too far when we try to solve the problem. Let me first give a very a short background to the Swedish football fan culture.
During the 1970’s Swedes watched English football on TV on Saturdays during the winters. The Swedish league finished in late October or early November and did not start again until April (this is still the case). Many people took deep impression by the atmosphere on English arenas and it did not take long time before standing and singing supporters appeared on Swedish arenas. It started in Stockholm when the three big Stockholm clubs (Djurgården, Hammarby and AIK) were playing and later in most cities with elite teams. Unfortunately the fans didn’t only import the singing and the passion for their clubs from England…
Swedish football violence
When an eighteen year old man, or perhaps boy, ran into the pitch last Tuesday and pushed Helsingborgs’ goal keeper Pär Hansson, he knew of course the consequences for the club. Because this was not the first time a thing like this happened. Only one month earlier, the match between Syrianska and AIK had been interrupted because of fire crackers that were thrown at the assistant referee. AIK got the blame and the football federation decided that they will lose the match with 0-3. They also gave them a SEK 150 000 fine.
A year and a half earlier; Djurgården had just secured their first league contract after beating Assyriska 3-2 on aggregate after extra time. Hundreds of fans entered the pitch to celebrate as the tradition stipulates. One person punched an Assyriska player in the face. As a result Djurgården had to play without audience in the first home game the year after.
The list of similar incidents connected to football, and to a certain extent ice hockey, is much longer. There are no doubts that this must stop but what about proportionality and reasonability? Are media headlines which give association to a war zone reasonable? Are the punishments against the clubs reasonable? Are the demands on the clubs reasonable? Firstly we need to put the incidents into perspective.
A serious crime?
Put 20 000 people, mostly young men, at one place. Add alcohol. Add an emotionally tensed situation. There will always be someone who misbehaves. This is not an excuse, but it is a fact. Compare with big music festivals. People are taken care of for being too drunk; there are fights and sometimes even rapes and robberies. So the fact that someone commits a crime when many people meet in one place is not unique for football. Often the number of arrests is proportionally lower before, during and after a football match than in connection to a music festival, or an ordinary Friday night in Stockholm city.
I also react against the tone when media reports about these events. Sometimes the hatred against people who commits crimes connected to a football match is much worse than the hatred against convicted murderers and pedophiles. The daily tabloid, Aftonbladet wrote after the incident in Malmö: “The 18 year old is today one of the most hated men in Skåne ever”. Hmm, really?
In another tabloid, Expressen, a chronicler calls the boy how walked into the pitch in Malmö ‘coach roach’. Isn’t that what colonel Gadhafi called the rebels in Benghazi? Another chronicler wrote that he hope that the man will have problems getting a job in the future since it is easy to identify him on the pictures and his name is out on the Internet.
I have never seen this kind of expression in mainstream media about other criminals, not even against people like Anders Eklund, Christine Schürrer or others of Sweden’s worst criminals.
To enter a football pitch during a game and push the goal keeper is very bad behavior; but it is not a call for the above mentioned hatred. To throw in fire crackers (as some other person did shortly before) can cause severe injuries and is much worse than walking into the pitch but still not a call for media hunts of this kind. We have to differ between different kinds of ‘hooliganism’, often all crimes connected to football is mixed together in the debate. Whether it is a drunken teenager who throws in an empty plastic beer can or organized criminals who threatens the referee in order to favor their team, doesn’t seem to matter. It is the same kind of crime – hooliganism.
Punish the individual
The clubs are hunted in media because they do not do enough even though they spend several millions kronor on security every year and are involved in different social projects to prevent young people to fall into criminality. One problem has been that when a prosecutor determines to ban a supporter from the arena, the club only gets the name and personal identification number, not a photo. This makes it practically impossible for them to keep the banned supporters away from the arena. Recently Djurgården got permission from the Data Inspection Board to keep their own register of supporters who are suspended from matches, including photo. We will see if this helps.
It is also about dealing with the problems in the right order. As I mentioned, we should not mix bad behavior with criminality. Recently, clubs have even been fined rather large amount of money since fans have been singing insulting songs (!) about the referees. This is rather ridiculous and alienates many supporters who enjoy the atmosphere on the arenas but don’t mind tougher means against the real troublemakers.
Clubs under pressure from media and federations plans to take exaggerated measures that we do not even see at most air ports, like eye scanning and taking finger prints. This is totally out of proportion in my eyes.
Supporters are not equal to hooligans. A more popular part of the fan-culture is tifos. Photo: Stockholm news
Society benefits from the popular football clubs
Finally, the problems with some supporters have given the clubs so much bad publicity that the positive impact they have on society is forgotten. The big clubs are already allocating many million Swedish kronor each year on security issue and have the full responsibility for the security inside the arena. Now there are calls for making them pay for the police’s job around the arenas as well. That could actually mean that some of them went bankrupt.
Therefore it is important to stress, that the three big Stockholm clubs are involved in many social projects for young people, not to mention the many children who plays football in these clubs.
There are also other unpleasant consequences of the idea to let those who need police protection pay for it, but that could be a topic for a whole new chronicle.
Besides, supporters spend money around the matches that gives tax revenue directly to the state and cities. The former Municipal commissionaire for sports in Stockholm, Madeleine Sjöstedt, wrote in her blog last year that when Djurgården or AIK fills Ericsson Globe Arena in ice hockey derbies or play offs matches, the city makes SEK 3.2 million from tax revenues when the supporters buy food and drinks etc. That is much more than the cost for the police force.
Criminals should be dealt with everywhere in society, also on the football stands. Civil society needs to be involved but the main responsibility must be with the police, not the so called ordinary supporters or the clubs.